The best Linux distributions for legacy devices

Computers that used to run Windows XP, Vista or 7 do not have to be thrown away. Special Linux distributions support older hardware particularly well and give the devices a second life.

Linux offers the best prerequisites for (very) old hardware. This refers to devices that were manufactured ten or 15 years ago. The hardware is then so old that there should be practically no driver problems for any of the components. This is true at least for PCs and popular notebooks. Only in very rare cases do older notebooks not work properly under Linux. How fast a poorly equipped computer runs under Linux depends not least on the distribution. We’ll introduce some that are best suited for older hardware.

Possibilities and Limitations

What an older computer can still be used for depends, among other things, on the CPU and the RAM expansion. In devices up to around 2005, PAE (Physical Address Extension) may be missing with 32-bit processors, for example in the Pentium M and Celeron M. Most current Linux distributions then cannot be started. From some distributions, such as Antix, Bodhi Linux and Bunsenlabs, there are still editions with a kernel that does not require a PAE.

Theoretically, all Linux runs on devices with a 64-bit CPU. However, it is also recommended to install a 32-bit system here. This requires less memory and usually runs faster. However, the choice is limited. Many current distributions no longer have 32-bit versions. Older Ubuntu 18.04 is still available with 32 bit and will be provided with updates until April 2023.


The table shows the minimum RAM requirement according to the manufacturer’s information. This allows the system to be installed and commissioned, but that is not enough for smooth programs. With 512 MB RAM and a weak CPU, only a role as a mini server without a graphical user interface is realistic. Notebooks that came onto the market between around 2000 and 2010 are mostly equipped with a dual-core CPU or a Pentium / Celeron-M. Clock frequencies from one GHz and one GB RAM or more also allow use as a second desktop.

Linux installation:

Older PCs and notebooks sometimes cannot be booted from a USB stick, a CD / DVD drive is not always available or is now defective. If there is no other option, remove the hard drive and install it on another device. PCs often offer an option for installation over the network. We have described the setup of the server required for this here.

Antix: specialist in recycling

Antix is ​​one of the few Linux distributions that is still available in a non-PAE version (only 32 bit). In theory, a Pentium II CPU and 200 MB RAM are sufficient for the system. Select a mirror server in the download area. the antiX-19.3_386-full.iso file if you want to use a live system with Libre Office.

Firefox is included as a web browser. Alternative ISO files with “base” in their name contain less software. At the start you can set “German” as the language via F2. Installation is carried out by clicking on the “Installation” icon on the desktop using a convenient wizard.

Antix “core” variants do not offer a graphical user interface. To install, start the cli-installer tool in the terminal. Since Antix is ​​based on Debian, you can use apt in the terminal to install additional software and for updates. A package installer for the graphical user interface (“MX-Installer”) is also preinstalled.

Q4-OS: Trinity desktop and Debian base

Particularly economical: Antix is ​​a lean distribution that can even be installed on computers with CPUs without PAE. Installation is carried out using a setup wizard.


Particularly economical: Antix is ​​a lean distribution that can even be installed on computers with CPUs without PAE. Installation is carried out using a setup wizard.

Q4-OS based on Debian uses the interesting Trinity desktop, which continues the long-discontinued KDE 3.5. The surface looks old-fashioned, but is slim, fast and adaptable. The 32-bit version is only available with the Debian installer in the terminal. The installation should still be no problem for most users. A kernel with PAE support is required.

An installation CD and a live system are available for the 64-bit version. The latter makes it possible to try out Q4-OS first and to test the hardware. A version with the current KDE Plasma desktop can also be downloaded. After the first start, the “Desktop Profiler” window appears. You can choose between “Full featured” with the typical Office applications and web browser, “Basic” with only a few programs or “Minimal” with very limited software equipment. Anything missing can be installed later via the “Q4OS Software Center”, Synaptic or via apt in the terminal.

Kanotix: Fast LXDE desktop

With LXDE desktop: There is also a 32-bit version of Kanotix. The installer is comfortable and clear. You only have to partition the hard drive yourself with Gparted.


With LXDE desktop: There is also a 32-bit version of Kanotix. The installer is comfortable and clear. You only have to partition the hard drive yourself with Gparted.

Kanotix is ​​available with KDE or the slimmer LXDE desktop – each with 32 or 64 bit. A PAE kernel is required. In addition, there is a special edition in the download area for the Asus EEE-PC 701 with four GB of flash memory, which was originally supplied with the Linux distribution Xandros.

Kanotix is ​​an undemanding system based on Debian 10. The LXDE surface will certainly not win a prize in a beauty contest, but it is functional and fast. The installation is carried out from the live system via the menu and “Kanotix -› acritoxinstaller “. The wizard guides you safely through the installation, but you have to partition the hard drive yourself via Gparted if you are prompted to do so. The software is limited to the bare essentials, but this can be corrected using Synaptic or apt in the terminal.

Lubuntu / Xubuntu / Mate: Based on Ubuntu

If you are used to Ubuntu and don’t want to dare to experiment, you can opt for a slimmer Ubuntu edition. The standard edition (with Gnome) is certainly also suitable for some old devices, but places higher demands on the hardware than Lubuntu, Xubuntu or Ubuntu Mate. What they all have in common is that there are currently only 64-bit versions. If you need a 32-bit edition, you have to fall back on version 18.04. Xubuntu with XFCE desktop is considered to be a particularly resource-saving and yet easily adaptable system, followed by Lubuntu (LXDE) and Ubuntu Mate. Installation via the live system is roughly the same for all systems.

In terms of software, for example, Lubuntu leaves out Libre Office, the other systems contain the same programs as Ubuntu. Anything missing can be reinstalled via the respective package management or apt.

Reading tip:

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